ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and the US have agreed to make a fresh start in their relationship for peace and prosperity of the region and the world, officials said yesterday.
This came as a high level US delegation, headed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, met with Pakistani officials led by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Pompeo asked Pakistan – a key player in the Afghan conflict – to ‘deliver’ as he complained that Islamabad had not fulfilled commitments in the past.
However, after the meeting in which he was accompanied by Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford and other US officials, the Secretary of State said he was “hopeful” of resetting the bilateral relationship with the terror-war ally.
The body language of the officials on both sides during the meeting and after it was quite positive and encouraging, something that was also pointed to by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi – who also attended the moot.
“We presented realistic stance of Pakistan with responsibility, seriousness and honour,” said the minister while briefing the journalists later.
He said the meeting, which was also participated by Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa – was held in a pleasant environment and Pompeo extended an invitation to him to visit the US. During his visit to New York for UN General Assembly session he would also call on the US Secretary of State to hold talks and it would serve as a follow up to Wednesday’s session, Qureshi added.
After the meeting, Pompeo left for India where he would be joined by Defence Secretary James Mattis to meet their Indian counterparts on a range of key defence and trade issues.
At the conclusion of his Pakistan trip Mike Pompeo said, “We made clear to them– and they agreed – that it’s time for us to begin to deliver on our joint commitments. So we’ve had lots of times where we’ve talked and made agreements, but we haven’t been able to actually execute those.”
The Wednesday’s discussion with newly-elected prime minister, his foreign minister and Pakistani army chief “had a different tone”, Pompeo said.
“And so there was broad agreement between myself and Foreign Minister Qureshi, as well as with Prime Minister (Imran Khan), that we need to begin to do things that will begin to actually, on the ground, deliver outcomes so that we can begin to build confidence and trust between the two countries. That was the focus of the gathering,” he added.
Qureshi in his briefing said that it was clear that the US had reconsidered its policy with Pakistan and had not demanded anything [specific] from Islamabad. He said the US apparently has realised what Prime Minister Imran Khan had been saying for years – that there was no military solution to Afghan conflict and the only way to resolve issues is through talks.
The foreign minister said that the US delegation gave an indication of willingness to hold direct talks with Taliban. He said that another indication that came out in the meeting was that the US did not want to stay in Afghanistan for long.
Qureshi said that Pakistan told the US delegation frankly that progress in relations should be based on candid and clear things. He said that Pakistan presented its “expectation and concerns in a good way to the visiting delegation.”
He said that US Secretary Pompeo was informed about objectives of and people’s expectations from the newly-elected Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government.
“Our objective is peace, stability, regional connectivity and economic development and our foreign policy will assist to move this agenda forward,” he said.
The minister said that the new government would revise the previous policies and in that context “a positive approach will be used in dealing with our regional neighbours.”
He said Pakistan wanted good neighbourly relations with Afghanistan and that he would embark on his first foreign visit to Kabul to further these ties. He added the development and prosperity of the region was linked to peace in Afghanistan.
Pak-US ties have been frosty for several months. In January, the US suspended security assistance to Pakistan targeting the Coalition Support Fund.
The State Department said that the US was suspending ‘security assistance’ to Pakistan as the trust level between the two countries had drastically declined. Washington said that Pakistan would be able to receive the suspended funding if it took ‘decisive actions’ against Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban.
Last week, the US cancelled $300 million aid to Pakistan. Another $500 million in CSF was stripped by Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, to bring the total amounts withheld to $800 million.
Foreign Office meeting
Before meeting with Prime Minister Khan, the US team held delegation level talks at the Foreign Office where Foreign Minister Qureshi was assisted by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua and other senior officials of the foreign ministry.
A statement from the ministry later said that Pakistan looked forward to building sustainable ties with the US based on mutual trust and respect. “During the discussions [at Foreign Office], the two sides exchanged views on bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest”, it added.
The statement said the foreign minister highlighted that priority of the new government was socio-economic development and for the success of people-centred agenda and economic reforms, an enabling regional security environment was imperative. He reaffirmed that improving relations with the neighbours was a priority.
In the context of Afghanistan, the foreign minister highlighted the latest positive developments on the Pak-Afghan front, including operationalisation of the Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity.
He reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to continue efforts for promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan. The two sides agreed that present conditions in Afghanistan were conducive to intensifying efforts for a political settlement.
They underscored the need for Taliban to seize the opportunity for talks in response to Afghan President Ghani’s offer for an unconditional dialogue.
Secretary Pompeo stated that the US fully supported reform agenda of Prime Minister Imran Khan and wished the government success in its implementation, according to FO statement.
“Noting the importance of longstanding Pak-US relationship, Secretary Pompeo conveyed the US desire to work with Pakistan in furthering the shared objectives of peace and stability in Afghanistan,” it added.
US embassy statement
On the other hand, quoting Secretary Pompeo, the US embassy said, “We talked about their new government, the opportunity to reset relationship between the two countries across a broad spectrum – economic, business, and commercial, the work that we all know that we need to do to try and develop a peaceful resolution in Afghanistan, which benefits certainly Afghanistan but also the United States and Pakistan. And I’m hopeful that the foundation that we laid today will set the conditions for continued success as we start to move forward.”
About any firm commitments from Pakistanis that would potentially merit resumption of military security assistance, Secretary Pompeo said, “So we’ve still got a long way to go, lots more discussion to be had, but the relationship military-to-military is one that has remained in a place where some of other relationships haven’t, frankly. They’ve still continued to have relationships, worked on lots of projects that are important together, and I hope we can use that as one of the foundational elements as well.”
General Dunford was quoted as saying, “And my job was to help support the Secretary as he – as he sought to reset the relationship. When we talked to General Bajwa on the military-to-military level, we agreed that – we listened to the prime minister very carefully; we listened to the Secretary very carefully. Their objectives were very consistent between the Secretary and the prime minister, and General Bajwa and I agreed that we will leverage military-to-military relationship to support the Secretary and the prime minister, and more importantly, President (Donald) Trump’s South Asia strategy.”
Questioned if the ground lines of communication will remain open, General Dunford said, “We don’t – we don’t have any reason to indicate that our cooperation in keeping the GLOCs open is going to change.”
State Department’s take
A statement issued by the US State Department said yesterday that US State Secretary Mike Pompeo emphasised on the important role Pakistan can play in bringing negotiated peace in Afghanistan.
State Department spokesperson said that congratulating Prime Minister Imran Khan on the formation of his government, the Secretary welcomed the further strengthening of civilian institutions.
Secretary Pompeo also highlighted the importance of the US-Pakistan relationship, and underscored areas of shared interest, such as the expansion of two-way trade and commercial ties.
While meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Secretary Pompeo discussed the potential for the United States and Pakistan to work together to advance joint priorities, including regional peace and stability.
“He also emphasised the value of strong people-to-people ties between our nations, built on decades of cultural and educational exchanges.”
During his meeting with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Secretary Pompeo welcomed the smooth transition of power to a new civilian government, stressing the importance of strong democratic institutions. Pompeo also expressed hope for deeper counter terrorism cooperation between “our nations”.
In all of his meetings, the secretary emphasised the important role Pakistan could play in bringing about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, and conveyed the need for Pakistan to take sustained and decisive measures against terrorists and militants threatening regional peace and stability.
Pompeo said ahead of the trip that it was time to “turn the page” and suggested that the election of Khan, who has vowed to seek better relations with the US, could provide a fresh impetus.
Khan was also positive, according to pool reports.
“A sportsman always is an optimist,” the former cricketer, who captained Pakistan to World Cup victory in 1992, was quoted as saying when asked about finding a new way forward with Washington. “He steps on the field and he thinks he’s going to win.”
In earlier comments Pompeo also held out the possibility that Pakistan’s military aid could be restored under the right circumstances.
The latest remarks represent a change in tone toward the nuclear-armed Muslim country and its new prime minister, who came to office in July amid concerns of his tolerance of terror groups.
Pompeo also confirmed that Zalmay Khalilzad, a high-profile former US ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad and the United Nations, would be appointed to lead peace efforts in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, US look towards a new beginning